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Lunch With: John Evans and Jay Westman talk about managing growth, reducing risk and giving back

“Our name is out there, and I’m anticipating a storm of work coming in”

When he was younger, Max Fawcett wanted to make a mint in the markets. Now as the managing editor of Alberta Venture he gets to write about them. Close enough, right? He can be reached at mfawcett@albertaventure.com

May 2, 2014

by Max Fawcett

05_LunchWith_story
Left: John Evans, right: Jay Westman
Photograph Ryan Girard

THE DINERS

YOUNG EXEC: John Evans, owner of EverLine Coatings and Services

HISTORY: He started the business, which specializes in painting, sweeping, seal-coating and crack-filling parking lots in Calgary, in January 2012. It’s grown exponentially since then, and he’s now looking to find a way to expand the business without killing it in
the process

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: Five last year, with plans to double that in 2014

LUNCH: LUNCH
Montreal smoked meat sandwich, cream of tomato soup, coffee

VETERAN EXEC: Jay Westman, chairman and CEO of Jayman Masterbuilt

HISTORY: Westman started the business with $30,000 and one house in 1980, and he did it a year after his father’s own company went into receivership. Now it’s one of the province’s biggest homebuilders and offers a wide range of related services to its customers.

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 1,500

LUNCH: Peppercorn chicken, rice and seasonal vegetables, tomato juice

“My dad had a one-liner: he who handles the shortage best, wins. So, is the shortage finance? Is it labour? Is it product? Is it customers?” – Jay Westman, chairman and CEO, Jayman Masterbuilt

Never let it be said that a summer spent painting houses can’t turn into a career. For John Evans, running a crew of painters gave him real-world business experience that taught him the value of exceeding expectations and living up to your word, and how to deal with temporary labour. When he combined that experience with his interdisciplinary degree from the University of Calgary, a few buckets of sweat equity and a willingness to approach big clients early in the game, it turned into EverLine Coatings.

Evans says one of the first sales calls he made was to Riocan, one of the biggest commercial property management firms in Canada. And while it might have seemed like a long shot for a brand new company, it worked. They gave him a bit of work in 2012 as a kind of test, and much more in 2013 once they saw the quality of his work. “Now we’re off to the races,” Evans says. “Our name is out there, and I’m anticipating a storm of work coming in.” He’s asked to have lunch with Jay Westman to help figure out how to weather that storm.

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Westman, of course, knows a thing or two about the subject given that he’s in the homebuilding industry, one that went into overdrive in the mid-2000s. They start out with formal pleasantries, and Evans explains how his business works. “Every year, [line painting] has to be done,” he says. “It used to be that some places could get away with every two years, but the government changed the traffic paint on us. Some places we have to paint twice a year now.” And he’s created a value-added product for his biggest client, too. “We introduced a more durable product for clients like the Chinook Centre that need crosswalks throughout the year. Especially in the wintertime, if someone gets hit in a crosswalk zone, who’s liable for that?”

But the real secret to his early success, he says, is his ability to make sure his guys do what they’re supposed to do. “The property managers we talk to, they say that the sweepers and the stripers are always a headache,” Evans says. “But a lot of it is communication – being able to train your guys to send a quick email to the property manager explaining that there was a car parked there, here’s a picture and that we’ll be in tomorrow. It’s as simple as that.”

The challenge he’s facing now is how to leverage that success into a long-term plan. “When I started it, I didn’t have an endgame in mind,” Evans says. “Now, I have to figure out where we want the company to go.” Westman can relate, given that he was in the same position as Evans when he started Jayman in 1980. “I’m sure you’re like I was when I started – putting in as many hours as humanly possible, seven days a week,” he says. “But you’re like peanut butter – you load up the knife and go across the bread, but pretty soon you run out. That’s when you know you have to hire people, that you have no choice. But you’d like to get ahead of the curve a little bit.”

Evans has done his homework, and pulls out a sheet of paper with questions he wants to ask Westman. What lessons, he says, should he learn from his career? Westman says he found business groups to be a big help in the early going. “Everybody’s going through exactly what you’re going through,” he says. He also recommends some reading for Evans on the art of entrepreneurship, and highlights three books that he thinks he’d enjoy: Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth, Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad and Eliyahu M. Goldratt’s The Goal. “These books are all easy reads,” he says. “I’ve read a lot of complex books, but they’re three easy-reading books that could have a huge impact on your business. You’ll love it. You’re going to read them and go, ‘Wow, that’s me!’ ”

Westman is clearly warming to the conversation, and he doubles back to talk about the risks associated with being in a business where demand so clearly outstrips supply. “You want people to say good things about you,” he says. “And even if it might cost you some money, the effect of someone saying something good about you will exponentially grow your business … but something bad about you will exponentially hurt your business.” But the supply side, he says, is just as important as the demand side. “My dad had a one-liner: he who handles the shortage best, wins. So, is the shortage finance? Is it labour? Is it product? Is it customers? You’re always looking at where the shortage is in your business.”

He also thinks Evans needs to focus on managing his company’s risk profile. “You have to look at diversifying risk. Don’t rely on just one account. Get into different businesses – maybe it’s commercial buildings or something else. But you have to make sure you’re prepared for a downturn. Some of that’s money in the bank and some of that’s knowing what you’d do to scale back – and that includes which employees are essential and which aren’t. You have to pre-think a little bit about that.”

Oh, and about those employees. It’s essential, Westman says, to make sure they’re invested in the success of the business. But, he stresses, that doesn’t necessarily mean offering them an equity stake. “The issue with equity is that people come and go, and it becomes complicated,” he says. Instead, Jayman offers “shadow equity.” “All our employees have the opportunity to invest a certain amount of money into the company and get the same return on equity I get.”

It’s not all business, though, and the conversation turns to philanthropy – how best to do it, and why it matters. Westman talks about the project he’s current working on called Resolve, a campaign that seeks to put a roof over the heads of 3,000 Calgarians by combining private-sector connections and contributions with government support. Evans, of course, is in no position to do anything like that, but Westman says it’s about doing what you can. “It might be as simple as volunteering, to start with. Time is way more valuable than money – way more valuable.”

As his business grows, though, the opportunities for giving back will increase proportionately. “We’d always been involved in some charity work, but the amount has only grown exponentially in the last three or four years of business,” Westman says. “That’s because I’m not having to run the day-to-day operational part. I’ve been able to put presidents in place, step back and become chairman.” The trick, he says, is finding what you’re passionate about and passing on things you aren’t. “You have to have some connection, because everyone’s asking you for money all the time and it can get daunting.”

Evans explains that he’s working with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, an organization that his wife is connected with through her career as a social worker. “It sounds like you’re doing something already, which is great,” Westman says. “It can’t be all-­consuming. But it can be a part.”

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